Connected components of John McCain’s America

On today’s FiveThirtyEight.com map, the set of states projected to go to John McCain is connected. (We exclude Alaska and Hawaii, for obvious reasons.) How likely is it that a presidential candidate’s states will form a single connected block? It turns out that the last person to manage this trick was …. George W. Bush, all the way back in 2004. Before that, though, you have to go back to Ronald Reagan in 1984, who won everything except Minnesota and DC. In fact, every other example I found of a connected electoral component was either a blowout victory (Reagan in 84 and 80, Nixon in 72) or a candidate of geographically limited appeal (George Wallace in 68.) To win a connected set of states in a close election, as GWB did and as McCain might do, is significantly more challenging. I challenge Isabel, who deftly solved the combinatorial-electoral problem posed by FiveThirtyEight last week, to estimate the probability it’ll happen in 2008!

Has there ever been an election where each candidate won a connected set of states? Yep, it’s happened three times in the twentieth century. In fact, there was an election in which three candidates each won a connected set of states. Can you guess the year without looking it up? Hint after the line break.

Hint: one of the three candidates won a single state — Wisconsin.

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4 thoughts on “Connected components of John McCain’s America

  1. Dave says:

    And then there’s the one argument that Hillary Clinton didn’t make: surely the Kentucky primary clinched the nomination for her, because it completed a path from the west coast to the east coast passing entirely through Clinton states, while denying Obama the possibility of forming a similar path.

  2. Darren says:

    Presumably you saw Brian Hayes’ blogposts during the primaries about Obama and Clinton’s game of electoral hex. But if not you (and other readers) might be interested in it.

  3. Dirty Davey says:

    Hmm. The 1924 case becomes even more interesting if you look at the state lines and realize that Minnesota technically borders on Michigan, meaning that while the candidates’ winning state sets were all connected, Coolidge’s set of states was not simply connected.

    Also interesting is that only DC prevents 1972 and 1984 from falling into the same category.

  4. Isabel Lugo says:

    Assuming Alaska doesn’t count, I think McCain actually has a pretty good chance of winning a connected set of states. Most of the states the Democrats might be able to pick off are on the edges of what was previously Republican territory (Virginia, Florida, Nevada, Ohio, Missouri, etc.)

    If we look at which single states flipping from R to D disconnect McCain’s territory, those would be Utah, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, or Georgia. I think Georgia’s the most likely to flip, and North Carolina will also go to the Democrats (a flip from 2004, but in agreement with current fivethirtyeight.com analysis). South Carolina stays red. I can’t explain why Georgia goes blue and South Carolina stays red, given that their polling similarly — but in my head, that’s how it goes. (This is mostly based on anecdotes from people I know who are from those states — but in most cases no longer live there — and has a very large margin for error.)

    My prediction: McCain territory will have two components. One of them will be large, stretching from Idaho in the northwest to Alabama in the southeast. The other will be South Carolina alone.

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